Those familiar machines are back on the water, pulling tons of plants from the coves of Lake Hopatcong and disposing of them—and thereby removing an annoyance for boaters and a huge amount of biomass from the lake.
More than a quarter-million pounds of weeds have been taken out of Lake Hopatcong since the four harvesters started efforts this month, with much of the attention going to the lake's weediest areas: Woodport, Crescent Cove, King Cove, and Landing Channel.
In years past, the weed harvest was conducted by full-time staff members of the Lake Hopatcong Commission. When funding was cut a few years ago, the commission struggled to make the harvest happen, settling for a scaled-down attempt last year with donated time and funding from the local municipalities and a one-time state grant. This year, grants from the state Department of Transportation and Department of Environmental Protection, totaling $254,000, allowed an effort to move forward, and although it will still not reach the same level of activity as in the past, commissioners and residents consider it a success to be tackling the weeds at all, especially in light of the budget crunch in Trenton.
Nonetheless, commission chairman and Jefferson mayor Russell Felter said a top priority for the commission will be to secure a stable source of funding, both for the weed harvest operations and the other activities of the commission.
In the meantime, the harvesters are churning along, with longtime foreman Mike Calderio leading the effort and several past staff members returning to help clear the water of the milfoils, grasses, and other plants that pull at swimmers' toes and wrap themselves in motorboat props.
"We know what we're doing," Barry Marke, who operates one of the harvesters, said when he learned the harvesting would be funded. "And we're ready to tackle those weeds."
To read a July 16, 2010 story in the Star-Ledger about the weed harvest, click here.